Editorial: Take the shot or say goodbye to your students

Posted 10/27/21

There’s only one reason the Barrington School Department can demand Covid-19 vaccinations of all employees — because so many of its employees are already vaccinated.

If the district …

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Editorial: Take the shot or say goodbye to your students

Posted

There’s only one reason the Barrington School Department can demand Covid-19 vaccinations of all employees — because so many of its employees are already vaccinated.

If the district was anything less than 90 percent vaccinated, it would be operational suicide to implement a vaccination mandate, as a condition of continued employment, in the middle of a school year.

Without even a deep dive into the freshest batch of data, we can confidently say that Barrington is among the most vaccinated communities in all of America. That extends to the elderly, the families, the children, the teachers and the staff within the schools. There is very little resistance to the vaccine, or to Covid protocols, here in Barrington. This means Barrington is one of the safest Covid communities in the country.

Yet the Barrington school administration has inexplicably chosen to flex its muscles and demand vaccinations for all employees, while boldly pronouncing this is the only public school district in Rhode Island (so far) taking this strong stance. Many people are left wondering why, including at least one member of the school committee.

At the committee’s last meeting, Patrick McCrann took the unprecedented step of leaving his seat with the board, standing at the microphone as a member of the public, and criticizing his own school committee and school department for not being open, clear and transparent as it implemented this policy days before the start of the current school year. Bravo, Mr. McCrann, for saying what so many are thinking.

The folly of this maneuver is not forcing employees to vaccinate. It’s doing it this way, at this time, under these circumstances.

First of all, the last thing this district needs is more disruption. Some families are still wrestling with flip-flopped school schedules, and absurd transportation policies that have turned school campuses into traffic quagmires twice a day. Now they face the potential for in-classroom disruption, with a small number of employees potentially being fired next week. Districts everywhere are facing massive challenges to recruit and hire qualified educators, and this district is poised to fire some who are experienced and valuable to the district.

How is it serving the highest educational needs of Barrington students to oust teachers in the middle of a school year? Rumors say some of those losing their jobs will be special education teachers. Does the school committee know it took eight months to replace a BHS special education teacher last year after one educator retired halfway through the school year?

Secondly, the timing on this policy is blatantly unfair to everyone. Had this been announced back in June, employees would have had a fair opportunity to find other jobs outside of Barrington, and Barrington would have had at least a few months to seek their replacements.

Finally, there should be a time when Covid vaccinations are a requirement to teach in schools — just as vaccinations for other infectious diseases are a condition of both employment and enrollment. But that time is not now.

Despite popular perceptions that “anti-vaxers” are politically motivated, that is not true for all, or even most, who have not chosen to get vaccinated. Many are still wary, waiting and hoping for more data and more time to prove the vaccines are safe for all.

Had the school department waited until next spring to announce its policy, given ample notice to all employees and the community, and planned implementation for the start of the 2022-23 school year, everything about this process would feel better.

Nothing feels good about the way it’s being done right now.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Media Group team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaymediagroup.com.